Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Praise for Race Directors - 6 Inch Trail Marathon 2013

I'm sitting at the airport awaiting the red eye back to Sydney after a wonderful but way too short trip to WA for their biggest off road event, The 6 Inch Trail Marathon. This event started out as a fat ass event 9 years ago hosted by mate and Australian 24h rep Dave Kennedy. I first met Dave in Wales when competing at the second Commonwealth Championships where I was contesting the trail event and Dave the 24h. As much as he loves the battle of the 24h, Dave is very much a trail runner deep down and does most of his training on the trails around Perth like the Mundi Biddi MTB trail, the Bibbulmun Track, Bluff Knoll and knows them all very well.

Soon enough the fat ass grew too big and Dave now puts this on as an official event and it's a beauty! It's very much what I would call an entry level ultra trail event and behind the Perth and City 2 Surf marathon is the 3rd biggest running event in WA, a figure Dave is very proud of. I had the privilege of staying with Dave and seeing just how much work goes on behind the scenes being a race director. Dave is literally running around doing every job imaginable. In one of his other races, the 100 km/miles Waterous Trail on Foot, he even ran the race himself. Up to a couple of years ago he was doing the same at 6 Inch too, but now 'it's gotten a bit too big for me to run it anymore'!

The 'Hokey' Nut
The most challenging feature of WA trails is not the terrain (although the pea gravel feel like you're running on marbles and the honky nuts are potential ankle snappers!), nor the elevation of which there isn't a great deal. It's more the climatic conditions. December in WA is hot and this weekend was a stinker. Dave wisely starts the race at 4:30, just as the first light is creeping in from the east. But with days prior reaching a baking 40 degrees, it was always going to be a challenge for all competitors (just ask the English cricket team that are over here at the moment!)

This is my last race of the year and went into the race wanting to end the year on a good note. Besides the heat, this race plays to my strengths being a faster type of race but it did attract the best of Western Australian road and ultra runners and lots of great up and comers. But this weekend was much more about just the race, it was about learning about a new playground, the subtle and obvious differences of running on the other side of Australia and meeting a whole new community of trail runners. Although my race didn't go exactly to plan, I'm going home with great memories and new trail running experiences and with a bunch of great new friends.

But to get back to Dave! During the course of the two days I spent with him, I got to see how privileged we are as weekend warriors to have race directors that put on events for us all. Dave marked the course over many days. Dave worked his guts out packing and repacking the bus 3 times with all the aid station gear. Dave drove the bus to drive the competitors from the finish to the start line in the morning. Dave then shuttled people from registration to the start line I the bus. Dave liaised with all the vollies and designated roles. Dave arranged drinks and food post race. Dave had less than 2 hours sleep in the 2 nights before the race. Dave had lists and lists...and Dave did not stop talking or doing the whole time!

Dave did everything but run his own race!
And the proof was in the pudding. So many runners loved the race...so many people made an effort to personally heartily thank Dave after the race. Maybe they're thanking him because he was the one that allowed them to reach a goal. Maybe it's because Dave was the guy who, by organising the event, set them a new challenge, or maybe it was because Dave was the one that gave people a means to try something new. Whatever people's motivation, if it wasn't for Dave this great trail running mob in WA would be a little less likely and many wouldn't get the opportunity to immerse themselves in this great lifestyle of trail running.

Of course, this is the same sentiment for many other race directors out there. As trail running is a sport not regulated by an over arching body (and thank goodness for that) the sport does rely on our Race Directors for it to make it happen. Even with SkyRunning and Ultra Trail World Tour et al...at the end of the day it is events put on by clubs or private enterprise that will ultimately dictate the future of the sport. I hope I hope I never forget to thank Race Directors for all their hard work.

Anyway, my first 6 Inch race was up and down. I do go away happy but with that irritating feeling of unfinished business! After a conservative start and surprisingly winning the first big climb 'King of the Mountain' challenge, I settled into a good pace with another Perth gun Gerry Hill. After about 6km I decided to break away on a long gradual descent and dropped the chasing pack that also included Scott Hawker; who really has a massive ultra running future ahead of him and another young local guy Tom Bakowski.

As I continued through the first leg I was consistently running in the 3:40-3:50 pace range with some of the quicker km in the 3:30s, I was well under threshold and feeling great at this point of the race. On some of the longer straight stretches I glanced over my shoulder and couldn't see any chasers; I'd opened up a pretty handy lead early on. At the 18km point, I met up with Dave who was out on the course checking on the aid station preparations and he later told me I'd opened up 2 minutes on the chasers. It was still very early in the morning and it was still quite cool with a nice little breeze. But it was early days still. I reached the 23km aid station and refilled my 1L UltrAspire bladder as I was using the smallest vest possible, the Spry. I downed a Hammer Gel and pushed on.

The next leg was a tough little section, this is where we reached the highest point of the course and there were some long exposed sections where the sun was starting to become quite punishing. But I shouldn't complain, at least 90% of the course in under shade and it could have been a lot worse. I was watching my hydration and I was happy where I was at in the race. With a couple of minutes lead I was in a good position but not home by any means.

Early on in the race
Towards the end of this leg there is an aid station at the 34km mark at the top of a short but steep climb. Dave had shown me this hill the day before as we were out marking the course. He showed me from the top of the hill where the aid station would be set up and he had offered to take me down and up again to offer me a feel of the hill, but I declined the offer. It hindsight I wish I had taken him up on it!

The whole out and back is 5km all up and as I started the 'out' leg I was noticing my pace dropping a bit but decided that this was probably a good thing given that the big climb was coming. As I reached what should have been the start of the climb I came to a junction where I could go straight on or left down a little gully. My gut was saying left as I knew the climb started at a dry creek bed from what Dave had told me but there was a little problem. There was a strip of pink tape lying across this trail on the ground of the trail I should have gone down and some marking tape tied to a branch on my right hand side of the trail that went straight on. So in my mind, with not much time to think intelligently I chose to go straight on. As soon as I headed up the trail I knew it didn't feel right but as it was still heading uphill it could have been it. Soon this trail began to level out though and knew that it wasn't the one. I had probably ran another 400m and by the time I had turned and returned to the right trail it was about 4-5 minutes lost.

As I started to climb the right hill back on the course, Scotty Hawker was already descending it. He must've been too far behind me and after the race he told me his support had it down to 30s as I turned off on the start of the out and back leg and this sounds spot on to where he was now in the race. Dave came down and asked me where I went wrong and he followed me back down the trail to fix the little problem with the ribbon. Evidently what had happened was a mountain biker or a kangaroo or something had snapped through the marking tape that was orinally stretched across the trail that I had incorrectly chosen to head up and had left the right amount of pnk tape on the right hand side tie point where it had snapped from. This happens in trail running and I stuffed up big time by not thinking it through fully and by not trying out both trails before choosing one. Had I just decided to head down the other trail as well I only had to turn the next corner down the gully and I would have seen another ribbon.

But it did not in any way cost me the race. Scott had paced himself beautifully and was warming into the race. Almost as soon as I started on the descent and the 'out' section to get back to the course proper, I began to drop pace a lot. I was feeling mentally a bit demoralised and physically was beginning to feel very low and my legs were going to jelly. I was feeling a little light headed and dizzy and the little pinches were taking their toll on me. 3km or so later, a couple of little walks to get my heart rate together and to get some food and water into me, I was passed by Tom Bakowski. I knew I'd be hard pressed keeping up with him the way I was feeling. The temps were now in the high 20s and it was now about surviving to the finish and holding on to a podium spot.

Dave Kennedy (RD), with Scott and Tom
And thankfully I did, the 4th placed guy at the out and back, Gerry Hill must have pulled and I held onto 3rd comfortably in the end. In the end there was 16 minutes between Scott and I and this is significant and shows what good form Scott is in before his big tilt at the HK100 and gives me something to think about going into a massive year next year about race preparation and pacing in the heat!

At the finish, everyone hung around and enjoyed the plentiful post race food and drinks, including midstrength beer and champaigne, and vegetarian subway! Dave did a short and sweet presentation and prize giving ceremony and what struck me was the generous applause each and every competitor received as they crossed the finish line. This race had a great little feel about it, from the time I met a bunch of athletes at Dwellingup Caravan Park the night before at the Q and A session, to the time I said goodbye I met so many lovely and approachable people. I'd like to see more and more easterners get over and run this event, it's well worth the trip over!

And we all have Dave to thank for it.